Thursday, August 4, 2016

Let me tell you about a place...

During the last few months, Lana and I have spent a lot of time in the little town of Cuba, Missouri. As Mom spiraled down, we made the five-hour trek every two to three weekends to visit her and my dad. During the last month of her life, we were there every weekend.

Cuba is a small town, home to about 3,300 people, along the fabled Route 66 highway and now modern Interstate 44, about 70 miles southwest of St. Louis. It was always home to us, even when it wasn’t.

Mom and Dad were born either in Cuba or close to there. They met and fell in love there. Mom taught school within 10 miles of Cuba. They got married and moved away so he could fly in the Air Force. She would see the world but would always long for Cuba. So would he. Cuba was home. Every single one of our relatives lived either in Cuba or were within 70 miles of it.

When my two sisters and I came into the world and traveled the country and overseas, Cuba was home. I’ve said it before. In my first 18 years, I moved 14 times. Sometimes we stayed someplace just six months. Moving was the norm. As we grew, almost every vacation was to the same location…Cuba.

They longed to come home, to see family, to see the friendly townspeople they grew up with. We had a tight, loving family and were anxious to see our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We wanted to get together and spend time camping with everyone down at the local river, fishing and just hanging out. Cuba, the destination of love and family.

1966. Dad went to Vietnam for a year. The rest of us went to Cuba for that year. The family folded in around us, took care of Mom, took care of my sister Patti and me. My uncles and cousins taught me at age 10 how to fly fish and how to hunt, kept me occupied. They taught us about life in a small town. They taught us how 2,500 people could take their own in and protect another family. Cuba.

1969. The larger family of two sisters and I left with our parents for two and a half years to the island of Okinawa. The longest we would ever be separated from Cuba and the people there. I know it is cliché, but you don’t know how much you love someone until you are separated from them. When we came back to the States, we were given 30 days leave before we had to report to our next assignment, Tucson, Arizona. Any guess where we went? Cuba.

Mom loved to travel and married the right man for it. As Dad neared the end of his career in the Air Force, there was little doubt of their destination…Cuba. In 1979, they made their trek with my youngest sister Pam to Cuba and bought the house built by my great grandfather. Dad bought a Chrysler dealership and together they settled in Cuba. Home for good.

In 1981, Lana and I would be married in Cuba, and a year later, would buy a business from an uncle and move there. For five years we would become a fabric of the small town. Dad would serve as mayor, Mom would become involved in civic activities. Dad would appoint a three person panel to become the first Cuba Industrial Development Authority. I would be the first Secretary of that organization. Because of the actions of that IDA and the State of Missouri, we were able to attract over 800 jobs to our tiny town in a little over 2 years’ time, bringing national attention. We were featured on The Today Show and many publications. As part of my responsibilities, I did all the marketing for the IDA, attracting potential businesses to come to our town. When we received the attention, I was asked to write a couple articles for business magazines. It is those articles that gave me the “itch” for writing. Cuba worked its magic on me.

If you go to Cuba, Missouri, there are street signs, but they are not needed or used. If you ask a local for directions, you get something like this, “Ah yes, piece of cake. Here’s what you do. Go up two blocks to the white two story house on the left. That’s Sam Johnson’s place. Hang a left there. Go three blocks until you get to Dennis Rodemeir’s place. Turn right. You’ll know his place because it is a big two story house that is light tan in color and there is always laundry on the line in back. Go up a block and you will dead end at the Stubblefield’s.  Hang a left and go up and you will dead end at your destination. Can’t miss it.”

There are thousands of Cuba's all over this country, with millions of hard working friendly people living there. Cuba is not unique, but it is a town our family knows well and a place Mom loved with all her heart. Lana, the kids, and I lived there from 1982 until 1987. We still have friends there. The current Mayor is a good friend and former bowling buddy. The old president of the IDA is still there, and we visited with him just two weeks ago. A great friend.

If you are ever driving on I-44 and see the signs for Cuba, pull off. Explore the small town. It won’t take long. The people are friendly. Ask directions to somewhere, then smile and wait for the response.

Go to the west-end of town. Go past the last three houses on the left. They belong to the Britton family. They are a wonderful, honest, hard-working family. The next thing you will see on the left is the Kinder cemetery. Keep going on the road until you see the flags. Pull in there and park. Just to your left you will see the large monument to the Krulik family plot. The nearest grave is Mom. She has the best of both worlds. Her mortal soul now rests with Jesus forever and her physical remains rest just 70 feet from Route 66 in her beloved Cuba.

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